Impulsivity and poor inhibitory control are associated with higher rates of delay discounting (DD), or a greater preference for smaller, more immediate rewards at the expense of larger, but delayed rewards. Of the many functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of DD, few have investigated the correlation between individual differences in DD rate and brain activation related to DD trial difficulty, with difficult DD trials expected to activate putative executive function brain areas involved in impulse control. In the current study, we correlated patterns of brain activation as measured by fMRI during difficult vs. easy trials of a DD task with DD rate (k) in obese women. Difficulty was defined by how much a reward choice deviated from an individual’s ‘indifference point’, or the point where the subjective preference for an immediate and a delayed reward was approximately equivalent. We found that greater delay discounting was correlated with less modulation of activation in putative executive function brain areas, such as the middle and superior frontal gyri and inferior parietal lobule, in response to difficult compared to easy DD trials. These results support the suggestion that increased impulsivity is associated with deficient functioning of executive function areas of the brain.
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Support for this study was provided by a National Science Foundation-sponsored UAB ADVANCE program grant and a pilot grant from the Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory of the Civitan International Research Center at UAB to R.E.W. The authors wish to thank Felix I. Kishinevsky, Kathy Avsar, and Matt Edinger for their help at different stages of the study.
NIDA K23 DA032612 (Stoeckel), Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Young Investigator Award (Stoeckel), Charles A. King Trust Fellowship (Stoeckel).
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Stoeckel, L.E., Murdaugh, D.L., Cox, J.E. et al. Greater impulsivity is associated with decreased brain activation in obese women during a delay discounting task. Brain Imaging and Behavior 7, 116–128 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-012-9201-4